Binder Q & A: Cynthia Manick on Blue Hallelujahs

…remember that no one sounds or writes like you. Hold onto your own spark.  

This Q & A was originally a feature of our Binders Book List bi-weekly email newsletter, in which editor Julia Phillips interviews members of the Binders community who are releasing new books. These treasured Q & A sessions are just too good to relegate to the archives, so we are now sharing them on our blog. For our first installment, we’re featuring poet and storyteller, and co-chair for the NYC BinderCon attendees committee, Cynthia Manick.

Your bio is filled with amazing credits, ranging from a Cave Canem fellowship to a Hedgebrook residency to a finalist spot for a New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship. Of all those experiences, is there one that most shaped you into the writer you are today?

I’ve been really lucky to write and study craft with great people. In terms of influence, workshop experience was the most important for the book [Blue Hallelujahs]. So workshops taught by Cave Canem and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop helped the most because each meeting, whether it was with Tyehimba Jess, Nikky Finney, or Vievee Francis, taught me something I didn’t know. Those lessons ranged from letting the outside world into poems to recognizing my obsessions and writing within that framework. More importantly, the peers I met in those workshops are people I still send poems to in the middle of the night. Having a safe space and spaces that challenge you to write the hard poems are vital to the writing life.

Blue HallelujahsWhat role does physical detail – bodies, clothing, specific places – have in your poetry?

When I describe Blue Hallelujahs I say the book asks the question: if you’re breathing, what makes you alive? Is it family, sex, blues, gender, race, or is it the way the body interacts with the world? It could be any and all of those things but we enter every dark place with our hands, eyes, and then the body follows. There’s a section of the book called “A Body Full of Verbs” where the black female body is at the core of the poems. I’m obsessed with the concept of beauty and erasure. Place is a circular concept in the book because the poems have multiple geographies. Some poems are based in the South where my family originates, while others exist in present imagination. For example, I have a poem called “Dear Black Dress” where the speaker knows that dress will get her in trouble, but it’s a trouble she likes.

You placed your collection with Black Lawrence Press after sending it into BLP’s open reading period. Any advice for other poets submitting to the slush?

I never had much luck with contests but I was a finalist twice for two other open reading periods before BPL said yes. First off, don’t be in a rush. You see all the announcements of people’s success and it’s easy to think, “Oh, I better get my stuff out there,” but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Some people can write a book in a month while others take five years. Ask yourself if the book is ready. Do the poems talk to each other? Then I would have someone else read the entire thing, either through a manuscript class or some other venue. We get so close to our own poems that at some point self-editing isn’t useful. Lastly, remember that no one sounds or writes like you. Hold onto your own spark.  

Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School; she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Fine Arts Work Center, the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. She was a 2014 finalist for the New York Foundation of Arts Fellowship in Poetry; serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing; and is Founder and Curator of the reading series Soul Sister Revue. Select poems have been performed by Emotive Fruition, a performance series in NYC where actors bring life page poetry for the stage; the 92nd Street Y Words We Live In project, and is currently being developed by Motionpoems, a organization dedicated to video poetry. Manick’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the 2016 Argos Books Poetry Calendar, African American Review, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, Bone Bouquet, Box of Jars, Callaloo, Clockhouse, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Human Equity Through Art (HEArt), Fjords Review, Kinfolks Quarterly, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Passages North, Pedestal Magazine, Poetry City, USA, PLUCK! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, St. Ann’s Review, Sou’wester, Spillway Magazine, The Cossack Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Wall Street Journal, The Weary Blues, The Wide Shore: A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry, Tidal Basin Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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Writer Interview: Julia Phillips, Post Editors: Andrea Guevara, Leigh Stein

BinderCast Super Special: Breaking Into Podcasting

The BinderCast is the only podcast exclusively devoted to women and gender non-conforming writers and their careers. In each episode, co-hosts Lux Alptraum and Leigh Stein tackle the essential questions of making it as a writer. Produced by Jennifer Lai.

Join podcast rockstars Stephanie Foo (This American Life), Manoush Zomorodi (Note to Self), Ann Hepperman (The Sarah Awards), and Jenn Baker (The Minorities in Publishing Podcast) as they share tips, tricks, and strategies for succeeding in the world of podcasting. This conversation took place last November at BinderCon NYC, for more great BinderCon panels, head over to Vimeo.

Subscribe to The BinderCast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Further reading:

Stephanie Foo on Twitter

Manoush Zomorodi on Twitter

Ann Hepperman on Twitter

Jenn Baker on Twitter


Building Community Through BinderCon Livestreams

Women and gender non-conforming writers all over the world are attracted to BinderCon, drawn in by the community, the professional development, and the craft workshops. Thanks to the Harnisch Foundation, even those who are unable to travel to New York City or Los Angeles to attend the bicoastal conference in person can access keynotes and select panels via the free livestream. This is one of the ways BinderCon boasts of helping writers like Charli Mills from Idaho to build writing communities around and beyond the conference through shared remote access.

Charli attended the 2015 BinderCon LA conference with a scholarship. “I was thrilled, especially as a rural writer. Nothing ever happens for writers in my area.” She was excited about the emphasis on professional development rather than craft-only sessions.

“BinderCon really takes seriously the woman who wants to be a career writer.” As we all know, the path does not seem to be getting easier, but more complicated, so BinderCon is becoming increasingly valuable.

It could be unnerving, being at conference with so many writers, and feeling like your own work doesn’t matter. Charli remembers being shy about telling people she writes and loves flash fiction. By the end of the conference, she found herself standing around with a group of women, long after the last session had ended. She felt fortunate to share the space with other people so much like her, but so different from her.

“We stayed because we were talking, connecting, bonding, and there was a woman with us who was in a wheelchair and most of the women standing in our group were women of color. It wasn’t that we were all different, but that we were connected by the passion that drives us to write. I walked away feeling so much more a writer than I had arrived.”

The sessions are BinderCon are enriching, motivating, and practical. There is something for everyone to take away, even from panels around themes that don’t necessarily fit your specific beat. Charli recalls sitting in a session with panelists who write for television, and taking away tips for pitching. “Who better to learn from than people who have to do it everyday?”

“To have guides along the way who are women in the industry who have more experience and exposure, and to learn from those women, is invaluable.”

In 2015, Charli decided to bring BinderCon to the women and gender non-conforming writers who could not get to New York City. Her area in Idaho only had satellite internet, so she hunted for venues that had better service and had no luck. After troubleshooting with Leigh, she decided to show DVDs of two panels – Owning a Complex Beat and Writers Who Mom and Moms Who Write. In January 2016, she hosted a repeat event for the “closet writers” as they are known by the local library. Both events were small, and Charli felt there was potential to get more people out. Leigh worked her magic again, reaching out to other writers in the area, connecting them with Charli.

“What’s going on in Montana is amazing, and that’s why we’re having this event in Missoula.” Teaming up with New York Times bestselling author Laura Munson from Whitefish, Stephanie Land, Rachel Mindell, Chelsia Rice, and Molly Priddy, Charli has organized a livestream of BinderCon at Shakespeare and Company, a local independent bookstore. Student writers from University of Montana are expected to attend, and writers will drive from three hours away in every direction this weekend to meet in Missoula and share the experience.

BinderCon LA will be streaming all day on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 10am PST and ending at 5pm PST. On Saturday, Charli will lead the group in a flash fiction exercise. During a break between panels on Sunday, Laura Munson will talk to writers.

“Her passion is to help other writers, and help other people connect with their own voice. She’ll talk about the myth of failure and success, and there’ll be a book signing.”

At the end of the day, all writers are welcome to attend an optional dinner at The Iron House where there will be readings.

The planning has been almost as much fun as Charli expects to have on BinderCon LA weekend. The group of women have been communicating for weeks, often multiple times in one day. The growth of the livestream idea from the small group in rural Idaho has grown beyond initial plans. Charli credits Leigh with giving phenomenal support and making coonnections with others in the area.

“Throw a couple of Binders in the mix, and you’ve got something dynamic. It gives me great hope for building something in Northern Idaho, and how well it’s working in Montana, and what a robust, diverse writing community looks like.”

Charli’s dream is to build a network of rural writers, all owning their voices. “I want them to know that they don’t have to sit at home. Even if there is not a writers community where you are, look for the closest community to you. Come on, and be a writer out loud.”


Pitching in the Digital Age

We write because we love it, but we pitch because we must. Our masterpieces deserve attention. They exist to be read by the audiences we imagine for them, but first we have to convince the gatekeepers. What do we say? How can we get editors to read and publish our work?

We’ve put together a few tips from the writers in our upcoming LA BinderCon session Women Who Pitch: Freelancing in the Digital Age

erikaReport Before You Pitch

Erika Hayasaki, former national correspondent at the Los Angeles Times, recommends getting out there to find answers to the questions your pitch needs to satisfy. “Make some calls, visit some people in person, hang out to get some scenes.” Erika says, “You can even open your pitch with a scene.” She says you need to know who your characters will be, and answers “Why should I care?” 


Go All the Waylianaaghajanian

Liana Aghajanian encourages writes to apply for grants and fellowships on sites like ICFJ to support your reporting. She also recommends moving away from big cities, and even go international. She says the perspective this kind of change brings can give you an advantage. “You’ll find the living expenses and rent are cheaper, while your perspective and the stories you find will be more unique, and therefore more attractive to editors.” She warns that wanting to write about a subject isn’t enough. Liana says, “Make sure you’re pitching a story, not just an idea – a story contains characters and tension and it has to go somewhere.”


melissachadburnDo your Research

A little extra effort can go a long way. Melissa Chadburn says, “Address your pitch directly to the editor of the column you’re submitting to. You can usually find their names in the masthead.” Since publications want to know you’re familiar with their work, she says, “Reference a previously published piece of the venue that shares your tone or aesthetic.”


monagablePay Attention to the Details

There’s one mistake Mona Gable doesn’t want you to make. When you’re pitching, depending on someone to put your work out there, check and double check to ensure you have the right name and spelling. “Spell the editor’s name correctly. Seriously.”


RachelKrantzKeep the Subject Simple

Senior Features Editor at Bustle Rachel Krantz reads over 100 pitches every day, and she doesn’t want to see PR-like subject lines. “You want to be sure your subject line makes it clear you’re not a PR rep. The main way to do this is not to get too fancy, vague, or cheesy.” She says your subject line could be a potential headline for your article.


For more on pitching, check out Erika, Liana, Melissa, Mona, and Rachel’s session at BinderCon LA! Regular ticket sales close March 9th, so buy your ticket today.

Session Summary:

Women Who Pitch: Freelancing in the Digital Age

How do you craft the perfect pitch? How do you get paid to write the stories you care about? How can you travel around the world to cover a story? Inspired by the Los Angeles-based group “Women Who Submit,” which encourages women writers to gather together and submit their work to magazines, and to celebrate the often intimidating process of sending work out into the world, this award-winning group of panelists will reveal their secrets to becoming successful freelance writers. The will discuss how to tackle a difficult story, how to master the craft of nonfiction storytelling, when a story is a right for longform pitch, which digital outlets pay for travel, expenses and which pay $1 a word vs. $50 for an entire story? Which ones offer the best editing experiences? They will also offer tips on networking with editors, tackling big, ambitious stories, and balancing home, family, and the writing life while trying to pay the bills and follow your passions.



NYC BinderCon Recap!

It’s been nearly a month since our 3rd BinderCon; our 2nd in NYC! With such a broad range of panels, writers and storytellers, we had the opportunity to learn not only be introspective and learn more about our individual storytelling skills, but also learn more about the stories of the people around us. Here is a round up of blog-posts by BinderCon attendees. We hope to see you at our next conference in LA!

“You Matter. Act Like It.” By Bizzy Coy, culture copywriter

“Learning from Veteran Women Writers” by Aya de Leon, writer

“17 Yoda’isms from BinderCon 2015” by Manju Soni, writer

“Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer” by Erika Dreifus, author

“Hot and Bothered: Writing About Sexuality” by Gila Lyons, writer


Required Reading: Links of the Week

Here’s what we at BinderCon have been reading this week. But first, a reminder to act fast and grab one of the last few slots for our speed pitching event, happening on Sunday morning of the conference, which starts in eight days!

Ali Liebegott, writer for the TV show Transparent (available to you through your own or somebody else’s Amazon Prime account password), penned an essay about their experience as a butch dyke freelancer writer, being invited to write for Transparent, and how their experience informs the show:

I wanted to get it right, and recognized the dangers of a bad representation. I’ve lived a good part of my life in a gender non-conforming body. As a butch who is constantly misgendered and regendered throughout the day by strangers, I have some crossover with a trans experience especially when it comes to using public restrooms, navigating airports, getting wanded by security detail on entering a sporting event, so I felt like I could use my experience to add to the conversation.


Daisy Hernández‘s account of a summer editorial internship at the New York Times is funny, enraging, and useful to other young women writers of color entering journalism (alas, things haven’t been getting better). Hernández’s anecdotes are cutting, like this one:

Because it’s the beginning of summer, NPR has an obligatory story about the high number of girls who are going to tanning salons. I listen to this while lying in bed next to my girlfriend, who frequents these salons, and with my idea for getting Colombians political asylum stalled, I suggest writing on the evils of the fake tan.

Mr. Flaco loves it. White men can always be counted on to agree that girls do crazy things in the name of beauty and that they need to be chastised. Who better than to scold teenage girls than a young woman herself?

BinderCon speaker Jill Filipovic wrote about how “parental consent” laws in Alabama are putting minors who want abortions on trial (not just morally; literally in a court room):

It allows the court to appoint the embryo or fetus a “guardian ad litem,” which is a person, usually a lawyer, tasked with advocating for the embryo’s interests in court. It also requires that the district attorney appear to represent the interests of the state — which the law explicitly says are “to protect unborn life.” And the DA can call the young woman’s friends, family members, teachers, or employers as witnesses if he deems it necessary.


Zoë Heller and BinderCon speaker Leslie Jamison ask: Should Writers Avoid Sentimentality? Jamison gets to the heart (ahem) of it, saying:

The fear of being too sentimental — writing or even liking sentimental work — shadowed the next decade of my life. The fear was so ingrained in me it became difficult to tell where outside voices ended and internal ones began. But the whole time I wasn’t entirely sure what I was afraid of: What was the difference between a sentimental story and a courageously emotive one?

Finally, ICYMI, as if: a conversation between Roxane Gay and Lena Dunham, including this dialogue about Internet criticism:

[Gay] Absolutely. I run into it because so much of what I get is noise and people being evil, and there is nothing I can do to fix that. But then something comes through, whether it is in a comment or on Twitter or via email, that is lucid and that challenges me in a truthful way, and that is when I respond. I respond when I am going to be able to become better and do better.
[Dunham] That is so well-put. It is hard to be criticized and it is hard to change, but it also feels good. The thing that allows you to keep being vital in your work is to open up to stuff and to be a permeable membrane. When I first started, the [charges of] racism around the first season of the show — I did not know what was going on and I had evil people telling me not to speak, but I also had people [saying], “You have to shut everything out, or you are going to go insane.” And it took me a little while to realize that it was going to be better for me to engage and learn and hear than it was for me to go into my house and wrap a blanket around my head. That was the beginning of a really, really, really important lesson for me.

Happy Weekend Before BinderCon! Rest up!


Meet Marie Myung-Ok, Journalist and Novelist

MarieMyung-OkLee200We sent out a survey asking the same questions to our speakers to help you get to know them better. Here’s Marie Myung-Ok Lee, who will be participating in the panel Mothers Writing Motherhood, on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Great Hall at Cooper Union.

In a few sentences, who are you?

My essays have appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, The NationSalon, and I’m a regular contributor to The Atlantic.  I was the first recipient of a creative writing Fulbright Fellowship to South Korea and has been one of the few journalists granted a visa to North Korea. I’ve held residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Ucross and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and teaches fiction at Columbia, where was the Our Word Writer-in-Residence. My forthcoming novel is being published by Simon & Schuster.

Describe one moment, event, person, relationship or other thing that put you on the path to becoming a writer, or told you that this was going to be your career.

When I was nine and my brother gave me his old typewriter. I’d been writing stories before that, but with the typewriter, I was struck at how “professional” they looked right off the bat, so I three-hole-punched it and bound it in yarn, and sold it to my parents for I think a dime. It was at that moment I realized that’s ALL I wanted to do, forever.

What’s essential for your work routine, ie. early morning start, some type of music, clean teeth, a looming deadline?

Piping hot, french-pressed coffee, beeswax candles, 4:30 a.m., gluten-free cookies. Also, no chi-moving stuff (e.g., yoga, meditation) until after writing is done.

After casting a glance at our program, who’s another speaker you’re excited to see at Out of the Binders and why?

Leslie Jamison. She’s taken the essay form, exploded it and put it back together in a way that some of its irregularities are the most beautiful parts. Her essays evoke something in the viscera that I once thought–snobbishly, I know–that only novels could do. And that she’s a woman and writes with the “I,” but is obviously a writer to be reckoned with, makes her a perfect fit for BinderCon.

Why do you think this Out of the Binders conference needs to exist?

We need to connect, support, share, inspire as women writers and just as writers. Plus, it’s fun to be in a club as an adult.

What’s one link you’d give to someone who wants to read or find out more about your work?

My forthcoming novel is not autobiographical, but it’s a satire about the “future of medicine,” and I’m realizing how much it’s been influenced by my father, who was quite a “character”–this essay [published in the New York Times, and featuring our favorite Mitt Romney] captures aspects of both my nonfiction and fiction.

Let’s get people connected with you!

Twitter: @MarieMyungOkLee [and Instagram too!]
Facebook: Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Feel free to add anything you’d like included in this post, like a thought, a quote, a cat gif, whatever.

Flannery O’Connor, one of the best writers who ever lived, said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I feel exactly the same way. Thank you, Flannery!



Sponsor Shout-Out: Bustle, Financial Times and hint

BinderCon has been lucky to find great partners to help make the dream of helping women writers out of the binders and supporting, sharing and collaborating with each other into a reality. We’d like to tell you about three of our sponsors–Bustle, the Financial Times, and hint–who generously support BinderCon.


The Financial Times’ new Communities Forum

The FT’s Team Communities would like to invite you to join their Communities Forum (signup here). What’s in it for you? Exclusive access to events, giveaways and more. It is free to join and you don’t need to be a subscriber to get in on the action. Great access and opportunities aside, the FT would welcome your feedback. If you have an ideas about how they can better meet your needs, email teamcommunities@ft.com or find them on twitter @FTCommunities.


Bustle is a website “Redefining Women’s Interest” with smart takes on news, entertainment, fashion, book, lifestyle and anything else that women care about. Dig in, starting with our own BinderCon Director of Outreach’s Bustle piece, “I was in an abusive relationship with a woman… until one book got me out.

hinthint_Logo 2014 JPEG

hint is unsweetened flavored water that refreshes without calories, sweeteners and preservatives. hint is available in a variety of flavors such as watermelon, blackberry, crisp apple and blood orange. hint also makes a sparkling version called hint fizz, available in flavors such as grapefruit, blackberry and strawberry-kiwi. Plug your zip code into their handy store locator to find out where to try it near you.


Meet Poet Jacqueline Jones LaMon

We sent out a survey of the same eight questions to our speakers to help you get to know them better. Here’s Jacqueline Jones LaMon, who will be speaking at BinderCon on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute as part of the panel Second Acts: Creative Writing as a Second Career.

In a few sentences, who are you?LaMon200

Jacqueline Jones LaMon is the author of two collections, Last Seen, a Felix Pollak Poetry Prize selection, and Gravity, U.S.A., recipient of the Quercus Review Press Poetry Series Book Award; and the novel, In the Arms of One Who Loves Me. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and UCLA School of Law, Ms. LaMon earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Poetry, from Indiana University Bloomington.

Ms. LaMon’s work has appeared in a wide variety of publications such as Ninth Letter, Mythium, Bellevue Literary Review, Callaloo, and Crab Orchard Review. Noted by the NAACP in the category of Outstanding Literature, Poetry, Ms. LaMon is the recipient of a host of honors for her commitment to university teaching, her social and literary criticism, as well as for her creative work. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and teaches at Adelphi University.

Describe one moment, event, person, relationship or other thing that put you on the path to becoming a writer, or told you that this was going to be your career.

I knew that I wanted to pursue writing as a full-time endeavor the moment I realized that I love the process of creating books, even if some of those works ended up never being published.

What’s essential for your work routine, ie. early morning start, some type of music, clean teeth, a looming deadline?

My answer to this question has changed as I’ve changed. At this point in my life and career, I would say that the only essential is that my willingness and cooperation be present, that I breathe, and that I find the courage to rise above any self-imposed or artificially created barriers to my creativity. I used to say that I needed to write at a certain hour; I now know that I am able to write at all hours, whether rested or exhausted, whether focused or scattered. The nature of the writing will differ, of course, but sometimes we need that kind of disruption to alter our expectations of ourselves and our work. I am able to draft with a fancy pen, a #2 pencil, or a keyboard synced to my iPad. I write daily. I try to write early in the morning, but if that doesn’t happen, I discover mini-moments in the corners of my day.

After casting a glance at our program, who’s another speaker you’re excited to see at Out of the Binders and why?

Tayari Jones—because she’s a brilliant novelist and a generous artist.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths—because her poetry and photographs send electricity through my being.

Why do you think this Out of the Binders conference needs to exist?

This conference needs to exist because silence between women is lethal. We must communicate our experiences, share our contacts, and support each other in our struggles to survive and thrive.

What’s one link, aka URL, you’d give to someone who wants to read or find out more about your work?

This is a link to my personal website. Come visit!

Let’s get people to connect with you: what’s your Twitter handle/Facebook page/website?

My Twitter handle is @jajolamo

My Facebook page is here.

Anything else?

Let’s Do This.


“Where Are the Women?” Anna Griffin Asks Journalism

“You can’t just wait for the end when you have an opening for editor and say, ‘We need to find a woman,’ ” says Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president for news at McClatchy. “You have to be thinking about this when you choose your next metro editor, when you choose your political writer, when you pick your columnist. You have to be thinking about it when you go to college campuses and look for summer interns.”

“Where Are the Women?” asks Anna Griffin over at Neiman Reports.  While much of what Griffin uncovers shows us that diversity in journalism has stalled for the last few decades (and not just for women), she also found evidence that the women who do make it to management roles in journalism are getting less shy about pushing diversity in the newsroom.